Minutes of the Meeting of the Science, Technology, and Medicine (STM) Special
Interest Group of the Society for Medical Anthropology (SMA) at the annual
meetings of the American Anthropological Association (AAA), Saturday,
November 22, 2008, San Francisco, CA.
o Scheduling problems
The past year’s activities
o Visibility of the group
o Procedural issues
o Discussion of possible themes for the year
o Panel type and status
The way forward
João Biehl, who could not attend the meeting, had discussed the meeting’s agenda
with Alex Choby, Betsey Brada, and Adriana Petryna. Harris Solomon who has been
coordinating the listserve is currently doing fieldwork in India. Alex, Betsey and João
attended the meeting of representatives of SMA Special Interest Groups to report on
the activities of the STM during 2008.
Alex and Betsey brought the meeting to order, and all those present
introduced themselves. Joe Dumit stopped by to introduce himself, to introduce the
International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology
(ISHPSSB), and to let STM members know about the launch of the journal,
Anthropology Now, which he left to attend. Deborah Gordon and Linda Hogle, both
of whom also had to leave early, introduced themselves. All others present
Various members pointed out that several SMA Special Interest Groups (SIG)
had been scheduled to meet concurrently, including the Critical Anthropology &
Global Health Group. João B. and other SIG representatives had brought this
problem to the attention of Vinay Kamat, the Special Interest Group representative
on the SMA Board. It was generally acknowledged that many of those interested in
the STM group were unable to attend, and that the topics discussed at the STM
meeting would be introduced to the broader membership of the group via the email
The past year’s activities
Alex C. presented the STM group’s accomplishments for the past year. These
included: creating and maintaining an email list on Google; the merger of the
Science, Technology and Medicine interest group and the Pharmaceuticals Study
group; and sponsoring panels at conference.
Email list: The email list is hosted by Google. At last count, 89 people
subscribed to the list. The group has used the list to plan and advertise the
conference panels we have organized. Harris Solomon has been running the list,
and will continue to do so.
Merger: At last year’s AAA meetings, the Pharmaceutical Study group asked
to merge with the STM group and we voted in favor of the merge. João B. and Janice
Graham have revised the mission statement to reflect the merger. This statement
has been approved by the SMA Board and has been posted on the SMA website.
Panels: At last year’s AAA meetings, the STM group sponsored a double panel
with special invited status that played on a theme upon which the group had agreed
to concentrate for the year. When the STM group and the Pharmaceutical Study
group merged, they brainstormed together to find a theme for 2008, eventually
agreeing upon “collaboration.”
This theme has been reflected in both panels the STM group organized for
2008. The first of these panels took place at the Joint Meetings of the Society for the
Social Studies of Science and the European Association for the Study of Science and
Technology in Rotterdam in August. At the STM meeting that took place at the 2007
AAA meetings, Alex C., Lara Braff, and Betsey B. volunteered to organize this panel.
The panel titled “Shifting Involvements: Collaboration and Relatedness in Science
and Medicine” involved five papers and a discussant. Paper topics built on theme of
“collaboration” and ranged from in vitro fertilization practices in Mexico to psycho-
pharmaceuticals in India to intellectual property issues around new cancer
The second panel sponsored by the STM group was a double-panel with
invited status at the 2008 AAAs titled, “Collaborations, experiments and care at the
frontiers of science and medicine.” This panel, organized by João B. and Alex C., was
jointly sponsored by the Committee for the Anthropology of Science, Technology,
and Computing (CASTAC). There was a call for papers through the list-serve and all
the twelve abstracts submitted made it into the session. The first half of the panel
was chaired by João B.; the second half was chaired by Chris Furlow from CASTAC.
There was great interest in the panel, with some 150 people in attendance.
Alex C. and Betsey B. introduced the agenda for the rest of the meeting which
involved: deciding whether the group should again pursue a theme around which to
organize panels for the coming year; brainstorming what that theme might be;
soliciting volunteers for committees to organize panels for the coming year’s
conferences; and thinking through the logistics of those panels, e.g., should we to
apply for invited status or not.
Other questions on the table included: How can the STM group make itself
more visible and attract more members? Should the group organize a paper prize,
and if so, who would volunteer to work on this? How is the STM section of the SMA
website working for people? Is there a way to make the web more agile?
Visibility of the group
There are some concerns around the visibility of the STM group.
Sponsorship by interest groups is not listed in the AAA program. Michelle P.
observed that interest groups used to be able to sponsor sessions. She suggested
that Alissa Silber (?) would know more about this issue. The Council on the
Anthropology of Reproduction (CAR) tried to get the AAA to list them as sponsors in
the AAA program, but it didn’t happen. She also noted that the CAR increased their
visibility by putting together a book prize and a paper prize.
Alex commented that we wanted to discuss the possibility of a paper prize.
She asked if anyone was interested in forming a committee of people who could
figure this out. Michelle P. indicated her willingness to advise in the process.
Before addressing any of the questions on the table, Lakshmi Fjord observed
that many of the people involved in the STM group were not present. She suggested
that these questions ought to be posed to the group via the email list with the caveat
the discussion be given a time limit. Members who are already working on
particular projects could use the opportunity to organize a panel and allow other
people to join it. She emphasized that it was important that the activities of the
group be diffused throughout its membership and be as inclusive as possible.
Alex C. agreed that the processes should be inclusive, but also offered that if
any people present were interested in forming an idea for a panel, they could
indicate so now. Megan Crowley-Matoka agreed, observing that the meeting was an
opportunity to begin the planning processes.
Adriana Petryna observed that the panels organized by the STM group over
the last two years have built on each other, and the STM meetings at the AAAs have
been opportunities to discuss ideas the group could build on for the coming year.
She suggested that, since this process has been working , the group could use the
meeting time to brainstorm a few themes that that group could follow in the coming
year. She encouraged those present to build on the momentum of the past two
Alex C. concurred, suggesting that those present who wanted to volunteer
could do so, and that those present could begin to brainstorm themes.
Discussion of possible themes for the year
Andi Johnson suggested that the group pull forward some of the themes that
came out the STM-sponsored double-panel that had been held the day before,
including ideas about active awaiting, temporality, and scales of times. Adriana P.
suggested focusing on non-institutionalized spaces, different temporalities, and the
challenge of continuity over time vis-à-vis global health. Lakshmi F. noted that
small-scale technologies get lost in analyses of science, technology and medicine.
She suggested we interrogate what kinds of interventions count as STM, and push
for the inclusion of different ways of knowing and different kinds of expertise in our
Megan C-M. suggested ‘the temporality of hope’ as a theme, which would
allow the group to explore the things we don’t quite know yet, what’s been taken for
granted, and what cannot be taken for granted. Betsey B. asked if the group could
think about this in terms of ‘foreclosure’. Andi J. and Alex C. suggested that ‘closure’
could imply both a closing off and a laying bare, and pointed toward temporality.
Ian Whitmarsh said that he and João B. had been talking about the market
and the state, the way the one facilitates or impinges upon or controls the other.
Alex C. pointed out that two years ago the group had sponsored a panel on bodies
and economies. In order to not repeat ourselves, she suggested the group think of
another way to frame the issues. She reminded the group that the theme for next
year’s AAAs is, “The ends of anthropology.”
Adriana P. said she had heard a shift in how people were positioning
themselves vis-à-vis large scale interventions, that there were observing global
health interventions in action, rather than after the fact. She was struck by how
Clara Han’s paper examined how people envision futures in the absence of any
architecture for them. She saw Han’s paper asking how people imagine futures in
contexts of danger and uncertainty beyond the question of more immediate ends.
Alex C. said she saw the conversation moving provisionally in the direction of
‘temporality’ as one possible structuring idea. She asked those present if they
wanted to put forward the theme of ‘temporality’ to the rest of the STM group via
the email list. Adriana P. observed that ‘temporality’ gets used a lot suggesting we
think about something like ‘breakthrough’ instead. Michael suggested we push the
AAA’s proposed theme to think about the ends of industrial bio-genetics, for
example, in relation to the imagined end implied in the endeavor. Betsey B. asked if
the panel could perhaps combine the themes of ‘breakthrough’ and ‘foreclosure’.
Alex C. brought the discussion to a close, saying that she and Betsey B. will
write up a paragraph introducing this theme and the other themes. An email will be
sent to the group outlining the suggested themes, and indicating a window of time
within which the group can discuss them before reaching a conclusion. (It was left
unclear exactly how this conclusion will be reached.)
Panel type and status
The discussion turned to the question of whether the STM should apply for
invited status for the panel it sponsored at next year’s AAA meetings. There was
also a question whether about the type of panel the STM would sponsor: Should the
group apply for invited status for a double panel, two regular panels, or one regular
Some of those present had suggested that perhaps the STM should not apply
for invited status in order to make it possible for other groups to sponsor invited-
status panels. Adriana P. told the group that invited status was very competitive,
and that a large number of very good panels were not accepted. She also reminded
the group that a double session is something of an event. The program committee
may want to give invited status to other’s group’s panels, but they may also
recognize the quality of the panels that STM organizes. Michael, commenting on the
crowd at the STM panel the day before, observed that it says something that people
can’t get in the door of the panel.
Lakshimi F. asked for clarification regarding whether, in the instance that
one applied for invited status and was rejected, the panel would just go into the
general pool of panels for consideration. (This was left unclear.) Michael said that
the acceptance rate for invited status applications this year was really high, but he
didn’t know why.
Lakshmi F. asked what was gained by thematically linking the panels
organized by the STM group for a given year. Alex C. explained that the point was to
begin a conversation , and then continue the conversation with a different (or
slightly overlapping) set of people in a different context. It was a way, she proposed,
of beginning a conversation amongst people who want to be in contact, but she
agreed with Lakshmi F. that the process should be as open to new interlocutors as
Alex C. directed the conversation back to the question of what type of panel
to sponsor and whether to apply for invited status. Lara B. suggested there was no
harm in applying for invited status. Alex C. agreed with Adriana P. that the double
session has been something of an event and has attracted people to the group.
The way forward
Alex C. asked the group assembled if any of those present were interested in
participating in organizing committees for the coming year’s three conferences (4S
SMA, and AAA). She asked that people indicate whether they would like to
participate in an organizing committee, and the order of conferences for which they
would prefer to help organize a panel on the sign-in sheet that was being circulated.
She also asked if anyone present would assemble a committee to look into
the logistics involved in setting up a paper prize. Lara B. volunteered to ask the
Council on the Anthropology of Reproduction how they had gone about it, and
Ramah McKay volunteered to help her.
1. Compose and send an email to the STM Google list explaining the suggested
themes for the year and soliciting input.
2. Recruit members to committees that will organize STM-sponsored panels for
the three conferences this coming year (see list):
3. Organize a committee to look into the paper prize.
a. Lara Braff and Ramah McKay have volunteered to check with CAR
about how they organized theirs.
4. Website business (we didn’t really discuss this much):
a. Adding and refining syllabi;
b. Making a link to the Google list.
Reported by Betsey Brada